The Temporality of Modernist Life Writing in the Era of Transsexualism: Discussion

The Temporality of Modernist Life Writing in the Era of Transsexualism: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Einar Wegener’s Man Into Woman’. Discussion.


The issue of transgender change is as old as beauty and plastic surgery, where man realized the need to feel fit in the desired and appropriate gender. From the time when “Man into Woman: An Authentic Record of a Change of Sex” was penned by Einar Wegener, making it arguably the first title on the subject of transgender, a lot of interest has been created on the subject, noting the fast development of the industry through innovations and experimentation. Caughie noted that the development of the field was thrusted by mainly sdue to 20th century innovations in science and development on various fields and the need for aesthetics in the modern era as people needed to be find sociable and likeable images and that involved sexuality and subjectivity. These are development of science and art at the same time. These two improved identity and appearance of the people that needed it to the current state where it is considered almost as a norm and a right for people that should be granted. This essay discusses on whether the first historical transsexual was a result of these two forces of artistry or as science.

Transgender as an art and science

To illustrate history of transgender, it is necessary to note when these words were first coined and used. This might give a brief history on interest on the subject and issues that prompted its development. According to Whittle (Whittle, 2010), transsexual did was not present until 1949 and transgender in 1971, both words arising from “trans” as a British term. Androgyne was first used in 1552 where the description was for persons who were in between. As early as late 1870s, there were laws on sex that were passed in UK and people got convicted of cases of indecent behaviour, indicating activities of transgenders might have arisen during this period. Whittle further noted that in 1926 and in 1931, mastectomy and penectomy surgeries were performed in Dora and Lili Elbe respectively. These were performed due to availability of technology at the time and need of that time. Neither of these were performed for aesthetic purposes although medicine practice is largely considered an art and science at the same time, depending on perspective given. The desire to solve medical issues drove the two to seek medical attention that was solved due to understanding of scientific background of the issue of transgender.

Understanding how people perceived the subject can also help to illuminate how it emerged and what it is today. Stryker and Whittle (Stryker & Whittle, 2006) observed the subject of transgender has brought together many professionals, theorists and practitioners such as medical doctors, sociologists, transgender individuals and psychologists in a bid to understand it from as many angles as possible. These cover a wide range of fields in science and art, that justify the claim that this subject might have had scientific and artistry basis in its development. The two further observed that science and technology has made it possible for man to achieve that image of self-satisfaction. Science has made it possible for people to understand how out bodies can be viewed from angle of dualism and seek means to achieve the desired body image. This also means that science has been seen as a limitless process of seeking solutions to problems besetting, especially in human bodies where some unfortunately get trapped in “wrong” or inappropriate genders.

Another perspective of transgender arises from the perspective that was given by Bailey (2003), who noted that homosexuality is not a recent innovation and people from olden ages have been doing it out of will and not scientific basis. He noted that the decision on who to have sex with in terms of gender, women or men is a personal decision, implying that there is no science basis for these decisions but a matter of personal preference. This is because these people were perfectly normal in the genders they were born in but cultural and social constructions informed their preferences. Some of the examples of these social constructions include ancient Greece when men had sexual intercourse with young adolescent boys and Romans in these medieval ages penetrated male slaves and prostitutes of that time. This was an indication that the choice of transgender was initiated as a personal choice.

Stryker (2008) notes that back then in the 1850s and several millennia back, homosexuality and gender variance were closely related terms. Valentine (Valentine, n.d.) differed with this categorisation of transgender and homosexual people, noting that there is a definite difference between the two. That transgenders arose from agitation of people for sexual identity in the 1990s, particularly in the US. This is a recent period and since there were successful surgeries done several decades before, this history and definitions are possibly slightly flawed. What is accurate however in the increased use of transgender as a political tool for agitation of human rights and in many other in other contexts during this time. Medical issues have since turned to social and artistry issues though it is not necessary accurate whether it was associated with its origin.

According to Bolich (2007) the main voice in sex and sexuality is and has been due to advancement in medical science. The two note that medical researchers possess an ability to alter human behaviour. They have medicine, tools and knowledge in their hand determine how people behave and especially in sex and sexuality. These are used to understand natural realities. Using synthetic hormones as gender therapy and scalpel, medical science has been used to alter gender to fit individual preferences. However, what was not stated is whether the desire to seek medical help to alter gender is innate body weakness or personal preference to belong in a selected gender. Rupp and Freeman (2014) added that medical science innovation that uses innovation, electrolysis and surgery as some of the main tools used to alter gender as was the case in 1952 when the patient, Christine Jorgensen underwent the programme successfully and joined US military, a traditional masculine profession. Though this was heralded as success in the making, it was also christened for going too far in changing nature’s predisposition of people. Again, the reason for decision to undergo such an understandably was not stated. The motivation to undergo this process must be strong and science has been known to provide solutions to these people.

Halberstam (2005) observed that media of one the mediums that presented transgender as a form of aesthetics that can be acquired using available tools in science and technology. Transgender manipulation is seen as a form of transformation that can be desired and achieved, much like a sculptor uses clay or artist uses a canvas. Gender has been as a flexible and dynamic condition like anything else in art that has been described. Whereas this is the situation in the contemporary world, its history is unlikely to have been origin that has led to the current situation. However, the practice has gone down as a culture that has been popularised by images and past success stories they are exposed to. Whereas transgender transformation has been seen as an art of aesthetics, possible failures must be known as was the case of Lili that died two years later. It also means the main reassign to seek gender reassignment should be medically advised and not a personal choice.

Stryker (2008) observed that medical science was the main reason for rapid development of transgender practice especially in the 18th century when the people faced a lot of challenges. Though it was used to assist people with known medical issues, it has been used as a tool for aesthetics. It is therefore unlikely that art was the reason for increase in transgender as it known today. People desired to have improved quality of life, where “medical practitioners and institutions have the social power to determine what is sick of healthy...hence transgender history of today. It was used and is still seen an a process of people seek it to find social identity.

While discussing transgender on what it is and how it originated, Teich (2012) observed that it is both a mental issue that people have and should be approach as a disorder requiring medical attention. Besides, it is a natural process and should be understood as such. Being natural, it is a beauty is and is therefore an art rather than a science. There is no clear line between medical and psychological reasons in defining transgender. This means its history could be any the two options of art and science but not much can be known as the origin of transgender. From another perspective, medical science comes in response to a known problem, to provide solution to human problems. Medical science must have provided solutions to people that were living with this condition. However, due to notable successes in the field, many more patients have used to achieve their personal ambitions of aesthetics, in what is now considered as an art.

History of transgender as an art has been understood as an art, meaning is emanated as a social construct and cultural practice that people practiced and popularised (Makadon, et al., 2015). It is for this reason that gay rights have been sought and legislated in many parts of the world, starting in the US. Being a social practice, it is then likely to have started as an art for some people, picked later by enthusiasts and met with medical science to provide necessary solutions. As was noted above, transgender might have started as an art but later picked and perfected by medical science through innovations to increase its reach and adoption by others as an art. This popularisation in how much science can aid the practice has made it fashionable and even passed as a right that these people should seek. In the late 1990s, these groups are no longer disparate but are organised especially when seeking identity (Beemyn & Rankin, 2011). Lev (2011) added that this is a normal process that seeks expression, compassion and empowerment through all means available, especially medical attention.

According to Hines (2010), transgender is both an art and a medical science, both of which have popularised the phenomenon. Medical science has especially come in people that believe they are “trapped in a wrong body”. Were these solutions absent, not much would be done in aiding people affected by the practice. Its increased popularity was as a result if increased possibility to solve known problems such as a source of identity. Whereas affected people could be incapable of performing certain desired functions, gay people are able and therefore their engagement in these attractions and perfecting their gender is an art process of aesthetics. The need to conform to certain social profiles, individuals turned to transgenders especially in college students. This social process might end up in one desiring to change gender to their preferred appearance. Where this was done in the beginning, it makes transgender to be an art.


This essay discussed the statement in whether transgender arose and was popularised by medical science and art. In many researchers, whose informed was sought and critically analysed, there is no single way through this was popularised. However, the fact that people have been deviating from social norms and getting attracted to members of same sex, it is possible this practice existed long enough but was not recognised. Indeed, it was outlawed and is still outlawed in many of the conservative societies. Medical science came in as response to people that were trapped in wrong bodies. Desire to switch to a desired gender was considered a medical problem and therefore such solutions were needed. As more successes were noted and popularised after surgeries of notable figures, it has been adopted in many parts of the world. Medical science came in a bit late but it has since turned this to an art intervention people see it as a flexible way of expression through their bodies.




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Beemyn, G. & Rankin, S., 2011. The Lives of Transgender People. Columbia : Columbia University Press.

Bolich, G. G., 2007. Transgender History & Geography: Crossdressing in Context, Volume 3. Raleigh: Psyche Press.

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Hines, S., 2010. Transgender Identities: Towards a Social Analysis of Gender Diversity. New York: Taylor & Francis..

Lev, A. I., 2011. Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender. New York: Routledge.

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Stryker, S. & Whittle, S., 2006. The Transgender Studies Reader. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Teich, N., 2012. Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue. Columbia : Columbia University Press..

Valentine, D., n.d. Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category. s.l.: Duke University Press.

Whittle, S., 2010. A brief history of transgender issues. [Online]
[Accessed 8 January 2017].




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